Posted by Claudia Grazioso on May 31, 2012
Last week I was heading into a meeting when my cell phone rang. It was our school, telling me my kindergartener had fallen off the monkey bars. I asked to speak to my daughter, and she sounded as cheerful as ever. I was about to write it off as a “just a childhood bump or two,” but then I asked her how she landed. In her sweet voice, she said matter-of-factly, “On my face.” Then she said that her neck kind of hurt, and her eyes hurt too. That’s when I stopped dead in my tracks and called the pediatrician.
It turns out that her neck and head were fine, and that her eyes hurt because she had indeed face planted into the protective wood chip covering under the play structure resulting in some dust in her eyes. She was fine, but another parent at the school who heard about her fall asked me, “Do you think it’s time to get rid of the monkey bars?” I was torn. Monkey bars are a staple of a playground. We had them at my elementary school when I was a kid and our “protective covering” was asphalt. Somehow we all lived (at least, I think we did). Still, I do recall a few accidents on the monkey bars at school, some that resulted in broken arms. So how safe are they?
As it turns out, tumbling from the monkey bars is the leading cause of playground injuries. In fact, the National Safety Council has stated that the “number of injuries caused by monkey bars is so significant that many experts recommend they be removed.” While I’m concerned about safety, I don’t know that I’d go that far — yet. Monkey bars help build strength and dexterity, and in a nation increasingly full of young couch potatoes, that’s no small contribution. So before removing them, we should explore ways to make them safer.
First, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that at least nine inches of protective, resilient surface beneath the bars is necessary to prevent traumatic head injuries. So if your school has monkey bars, ask about that protective surface underneath. Also, younger children have a higher center of gravity, which means when they fall they tend to tip over and fall headfirst. Not good. Younger kids — kids under age seven — also don’t usually have the upper body strength to get across the full set of monkey bars consistently. If you have monkey bars at your elementary school, consider asking that there be adults present to act as spotters when the younger kids use the monkey bars. Finally, younger kids need smaller equipment: no higher than sixty inches. And then maybe we can all relax and let the kids enjoy the playground.